Saturday, January 23, 2010

It was an Emotional Journey into Port au Prince


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Yesterday i met up with a friend from Morocco at a bookstore cafe. After a busy day at the office I was slightly incoherent and took too much time ordering my hot chocolate. The man behind the counter said, "Well it could be worse, you could be in Haiti," to which my friend responded, " Actually she just got back from Haiti." Which was why i was so incoherent.

My friend was quiet, although we had not spoken in months. I kept asking her to speak and she said that she felt like whatever she had to say would seem so insignificant and mundane compared to what I had just witnessed in Haiti. She kept asking me about my experiences there. By now I have a repertoire of stories, the bread story, the house as grave story, etc.

The experience of Haiti was mostly about witnessing - both the might of God and His ability to end things just as He begins things; and it was about witnessing resiliency and fortitude of spirit. For example, a Haitian man that i met told me that he had gone around all day one day with a friend of his trying to find a priest to conduct a funeral service for a relative of his friend but they could find none, because 60% of the priests had perished in the earthquake and others are missing.

But to be honest the trip to Haiti has become a mechanism by which i gauge my gratitude. And its not looking too good for me. As we drove around Port au Prince I saw tent-city after tent-city with people sitting around, some with masks over their faces, others carrying bottles of water. I saw a woman selling under ripe oranges and a man selling sugar cane on the street. Everybody trying to move on in their own way.

It was an emotional journey. There was a little boy who came up to the window of the car I was sitting in as I waited for members of my team to drop off food and water to a church. He had a beautiful face and when I smiled and waved at him, he did the same. I wanted to give the boy something, like a carton of the milk that i had in a bag in our car - but i knew that i could not do this because there were hundreds of people standing around. Our convoy of trucks carrying food had gotten their undivided attention as we drove uphill into one of the "worst" neighborhoods in Port au Prince. I did not have hundreds of cartons of milk and earlier experiences throughout that day in Port au Prince taught me that tension could easily rise if people saw someone get something from which they felt they were being excluded.

I consoled myself with the knowledge that the place where we were leaving boxes of food would cook and feed the people in the neighborhood and I prayed that this boy would be amongst those who ate. I hated the sense of power and control over another's destiny that food, water, and of course money had given us all of a sudden. Sometimes it is difficult to surrender privilege - or even to share it.

There were many times when I thought that I might cry. Or that I stood unable to make sense out of all that was happening. Like when I was standing in the middle of a water distribution, a truck that we had driven in from the Dominican Republic was loaded down with water bottles and some of our Haitian and Dominican volunteers threw the bottles from the truck down to thirsty people who sometimes opened the packages immediately and began drinking. I knew that I had never experienced that kind of thirst.

One of our Haitian Muslim friends who drove back with us to the border that night, was excited because there was a truck load of donated blood waiting to be driven into Port au Prince. He thought that the timing could not have been be better, and was hoping that the blood could save some lives.

As we were parting ways, I remembered a bag of bread we had bought in Santo Domingo the day before and kept in our car as snack food for the drive. I asked the Haitian man if he might take the bread with him. "Bread?!" he said with more enthusiasm than I had expected. Then he told me that they hadn't had bread since Tuesday (the day of the first earthquake) and now there were no more bakeries left standing. People would be excited he told me- about the bread, about the blood, about the little bottles of water we had trucked in, about a few cartons of milk. I wanted my heart to be as grateful as theirs were.


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